SBJ/June 20-26, 2011/Research and Ratings

Verizon’s recognition rate sets survey record

More than 36 percent of avid NHL fans correctly identified Verizon Wireless as the league’s telecommunications partner in a survey completed this month for SportsBusiness Journal by Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, the highest recognition rate for any brand in the five-year history of the league survey.

Verizon, a 10-year sponsor, was the top NHL ad spender for a third consecutive season.

In addition, among casual NHL fans, 25 percent correctly recognized Verizon’s partnership with the league, a level for that segment of fans topped only by Anheuser-Busch in 2007, with 30.7 percent.

Verizon this year was the league’s top ad spender for the third consecutive season, according to The Nielsen Cos. The telecom company spent $2.6 million on nationally televised NHL broadcasts, double what it spent in the 2008-09 season. Information on its spending in 2009-10 was not available. Its team portfolio was unchanged from 2009-10 — Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Jose, St. Louis and Washington — and for the second consecutive season, four of those clubs made the playoffs.

Is it important to you to be aware of which companies are official sponsors of the NHL? 
  AVID   CASUAL
  2011 2010 2009   2011 2010 2009
Yes 57.9% 47.3% 61.6%   43.6% 37.5% 31.1%
No 42.1% 52.7% 38.4%   56.4% 62.5% 68.9%
 
Are you more or less likely to regularly consume a product/service if that product/ service is an official sponsor of the NHL? 
  AVID   CASUAL
  2011 2010 2009   2011 2010 2009
More likely 56.1% 43.4% 51.6%   35.3% 33.0% 31.9%
Unaffected or less likely  43.9% 56.7% 48.4%   64.7% 67.0% 68.1%
 
Are you more or less likely to recommend a product/service to a friend or family member if that product/service is an official sponsor of the NHL? 
  AVID   CASUAL
  2011 2010 2009 2011 2010 2009
More likely 51.1% 41.9% 52.2%   37.7% 34.5% 34.3%
Unaffected or less likely  48.8% 58.1% 47.9%   62.3% 65.5% 65.7%
 
Are you more or less likely to consciously support a company by purchasing its products/services if the company is an official sponsor of the NHL? 
  AVID   CASUAL
  2011 2010 2009 2011 2010 2009
More likely 50.2% 39.4% NA   38.2% 33.5% NA 
Unaffected or less likely  49.8% 60.6% NA    61.8% 66.5% NA 

NA: Not applicable; question was not asked in annual survey.

The 10-year sponsor also drew exposure via its naming-rights deal at the Capitals’ home arena, with signage from its status as a founding partner at the Penguins’ new Consol Energy Center, and from virtual signage at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

But Verizon is not alone in having seen gains. According to the survey results, nearly every new and tenured partner saw higher levels of brand awareness among both avid and casual fans this season compared with 2009-10.

Honda, which signed a three-year deal prior to the 2008-09 season making it the league’s official vehicle, saw an increase of 5 percentage points in overall awareness compared with last year’s study.

“The NHL indexes well for the intenders and purchasers of Honda products, better than the other major sports,” said Honda brand manager Tom Peyton.

Honda’s only team-level partnership is with the Anaheim Ducks, and it has the naming rights for the club’s arena. Peyton said the company’s research has shown an increase in Honda ownership in that market over the past several years, and Honda hopes the same effect occurs nationally through the brand’s league-level partnership. Honda dealers nationwide can display the NHL marks on-site at their properties.

Peyton said the company also gained a great deal of positive exposure this year through its activation at the Winter Classic and All-Star Game, where a player at each event was presented with a car during a network broadcast.

Pepsi, which replaced Coca-Cola in 2006 as the league’s official soda, received its highest recognition mark in the study’s history this season. Twenty-six percent of the fans surveyed recognized the brand’s official status, six percentage points more than the count for Coca-Cola. The only other time Pepsi has had a higher fan awareness than Coke was in 2008, and that difference was by less than one percentage point.

Geico’s overall recognition rate matches that of longtime league partner McDonald’s.

Geico became the league’s official insurance company midway through the 2009-10 season with a deal that included exposure via the NHL Network and NHL.com. In this year’s survey, its overall recognition rate of 20 percent matches that of longtime league partner McDonald’s. The company has signage in more than half of the league’s U.S. venues and sponsorship agreements with seven of those clubs. The NHL deal is the company’s only league-level sports partnership.

GETTY IMAGES
Discover, shown with other brands at the Honda SuperSkills competition during All-Star Weekend, saw its overall awareness level more than double from the most recent survey.

Another relatively new partner, Discover, not only saw its overall awareness level more than double compared with the 2009-10 study, but it also passed MasterCard and American Express in fans’ mind share in the credit card category. The company was the league’s fifth-biggest advertiser this season, spending $1.9 million. Discover’s U.S.-based sponsorship began in November.

In the beer category, while Bud Light saw an overall gain of 3.3 percentage points from last year, reversing a three-year slide, the brand has had an overall drop of more than 9 points compared with the 2007 survey. Parent company Anheuser-Busch, which has been a league partner since 1994, is currently involved in a battle in Canada with rival Molson Coors, which signed a $375 million deal in February for Molson to replace Labatt as the league’s official beer in Canada after this season. On June 3, the Ontario Superior Court upheld a lawsuit brought against the NHL by Anheuser-Busch, saying its Labatt brand had a signed deal with the NHL through the 2013-14 season prior to the announced NHL-Molson Coors deal.

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Methodology

Turnkey Sports & Entertainment, through its Turnkey Intelligence operation, conducted national consumer research surveys among a sample of 425 members of the Greenfield Online Omnibus panel who were at least 18 years old.

This year’s survey was conducted May 24-June 4, a period that coincided with the Stanley Cup Final. Last year’s survey was conducted over the same two-week period.

Respondents were screened and analyzed based on their avidity levels. Fans categorized as “avid” were those who responded “4” or “5” to the question “How big a fan are you of the NHL?” and claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a week or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 10 games per season” and “have a favorite team.” Fans categorized as “casual” responded “3” to the same initial question, then claimed to “look up news, scores and standings several times a month or more often,” “watch/listen/attend at least 3 games per season” and “have a favorite team.”

The percentage responses listed have been rounded. The margin of error for each survey is +/- 4 percent. Ad spending totals are from The Nielsen Cos. and represent estimated spending on NHL broadcasts on NBC and Versus based on network-provided rate cards.

Turnkey performs research and consulting work for more than 70 North American major league clubs, as well as numerous league offices and sports brands. The NHL and several of its teams have been among the company’s clients.

Which of the following is an official sponsor of the NHL?

McDonald's in January signed an extension with the NHL to maintain its rights as the league's American quick-service restaurant through the end of the 2010-11 season. It has been a Canadian partner of the NHL since 1993. McDonald's also this year became title sponsor of NBC's inaugural Hockey Day in America in February, which included four games spread across six hours of hockey programming, and it sponsored a combined nine hours of pregame coverage on NBC and Versus on the day of this year's Winter Classic. Meanwhile, Subway's overall numbers have more than doubled since entering into a long-term agreement with NBC in 2009. The "Skate Hard. Eat Fresh" message is promoted throughout NBC's NHL coverage.

The majority of Pepsi's NHL activation occurs in Canada. However, at the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, Pepsi Max hosted a viewing party at the Hard Rock Cafe, sponsored free travel on city buses, trolleys and the Mon Incline railway, and handed out free prizes including game tickets. Coca-Cola saw its awareness level drop for the second consecutive year.

Gatorade's recognition number among casual fans bounced back from its lowest level since our survey began. Among avid NHL fans, the PepsiCo brand jumped almost six percentage points, and the brand saw growth among U.S. fans surveyed despite the fact that the majority of its activation was Canadian-based in-store promotion/consumer engagement. Gatorade was, in July, named title sponsor for the 2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp fueled by G Series. The camp is a preseason opportunity for league and team officials to discuss and test possible on-ice changes for the game. NHL Network aired a nightly recap and highlights show during the event.

In February, the NHL signed a seven-year, $375 million deal that would designate MillerCoors/Coors Light in the United States and Molson Coors in Canada the league's official beer sponsors. The deal is scheduled to take effect on July 1. Anheuser-Busch/Labatt has since filed a lawsuit against the NHL, saying the league negotiated in bad faith during talks for a new sponsorship deal. A-B has held U.S. league sponsorship rights since 1994; Labatt has been the NHL's Canadian beer sponsor since 1998.

The NHL last fall signed Discover to a one-season deal that includes credit card rights in the United States. The league had been without a U.S. credit card sponsor since MasterCard left in 2007. As part of its NHL integration, Discover ran a sweepstakes on Facebook for parents of youth hockey players in the United States to submit an original video of their child's most rewarding hockey moment. The contest winner, his/ her family and friends were able to spend a day with the Stanley Cup. Canadian rights holder Visa, through its Hockey Love Hurts campaign, allowed fans to vote for their favorite team at www.hockeylovehurts.ca. Two grand prize winners won tickets to a Stanley Cup Final game. The program was also visible on NHL.com.

In a category that's open at the league level, UPS has partnerships with six NHL teams, but saw a dip in awareness and still lags behind FedEx with fans.

Honda sponsored a U.S.-based contest in which visitors to local dealerships were able to enter to win two tickets to this year's Winter Classic. The automaker gained much of its exposure through activation around that game, as well as the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition during the 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend. Ford, meanwhile, spent $2.1 million during NHL telecasts this season, No. 4 among the league's spenders, and has seen its awareness among avid fans rise three straight years.

For the 2010-11 season, Berkshire Hathaway, Geico's parent company, spent an estimated $2.5 million on NHL TV advertising. That ranked No. 2 among all league spenders, behind only Verizon Wireless. Part of Geico's activation around the Winter Classic included creating four webisodes featuring the brand's Caveman character appearing at the NHL Winter Classic Spectator Plaza fan festival and hosting a contest that gave fans a chance to win a $500 gas card.

Verizon Wireless was the league's top TV ad spender this season. Its efforts included a campaign that featured the "Ovech-trick," the suggestion of Alex Ovechkin scoring nine goals in a game. The spot touting the effort for the Washington Capitals star made its debut on NBC during the 2011 Winter Classic between the Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Verizon also received praise from the tech world for expanding its GameCenter Live application beyond the iPhone to BlackBerry and Android devices this season.

Canadian banking rights sponsor Scotiabank added a second NHL arena to its naming-rights portfolio with the addition in October of the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. The previous month, the Ottawa Senators, who play at Scotiabank Place, were awarded the 2012 NHL All-Star Game. Bank of America has seen a drop among both avid and casual fans after it did not renew its league sponsorship following the 2008-09 season, but still leads the bank category in recognition levels.

Starwood Hotels, which includes the Sheraton and Westin brands, held online auctions during the season giving its premium members the chance to win VIP trips to the NHL draft, Stanley Cup Final and NHL Awards Show. Sheraton saw its recognition numbers drop among both avid and casual fans this year after a significant increase last season, which was its first year back as a sponsor after a three-season hiatus.

Air Canada (Toronto), American Airlines (Dallas) and United Airlines (Chicago) all have naming-rights deals at venues that host NHL teams. Delta, in February, signed a multiyear deal with the Los Angeles Kings and Staples Center owner AEG to become an official founding partner of that venue.

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